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Movie Review: John Wick Fuels A Slow Burn

It has been four years since “Sad Keanu” images went viral on the Internet, but the 50-year-old Canadian actor confidently brings the meme to life in his latest flick. As the titular character in John Wick, Reeves runs the gamut of emotions from upset to downright depressed. Fortunately, fellow characters regularly spell out his state-of-mind, so the subtle transition isn’t lost on viewers and Reeves isn’t required to vary his signature hangdog look.

Best known for similarly stoic performances in Speed and The Matrix, Reeves revives his action film persona as John Wick, a solitary man of few words. Grief-stricken following the loss of his wife (Bridget Moynahan) to cancer, Wick resides alone in a sparsely-furnished New Jersey mansion that is cinematically tinted with blue light – presumably to underscore his sadness. Scene lighting soon brightens, though Wick’s face does not, when a gift arrives from his deceased spouse in the form of a beagle puppy. Wick bonds with his new best friend and exhibits "responsible" dog ownership by feeding her cereal and taking her for a spin – and a drift – in his ’69 Mustang.

Things seem to be looking up for Wick, until he encounters Iosef (Alfie Allen), the bratty son of a Russian mafia kingpin, to whom he refuses to sell his classic muscle car. In retaliation, Iosef and his cohorts break into Wick’s house, attack him and inexplicably bludgeon his puppy to death, before stealing the coveted vehicle. Iosef’s father, Viggo (Michael Nyqvist), is none too pleased with his son’s actions and reveals that Wick is a retired hit man once capable of “kill[ing] three men in a bar with a pencil.” Viggo half-heartedly attempts to reason with his former employee, but in true PETA-inspired fashion, Wick spends the remainder of the film taking down the entire Russian crime syndicate over the death of his pup.

In addition to a multitude of cool cars, the revenge flick introduces auxiliary friends and foes to keep the plot moving, including fellow hit man, Marcus (Willem Dafoe), and hit woman, Ms. Perkins (Adrianne Palicki), as well as cleanup man, Charlie (David Patrick Kelly). These characters are the lifeblood of the film. So is the premise that New Jersey is not only rife with murderous individuals for hire, but has an ecosystem in place to host and hide their activities.

Following one scene, in which Wick violently dispatches 30 of Viggo’s henchmen, a policeman appears to investigate a noise complaint. Upon seeing Wick’s blood-spattered face and noticing a masked man dead on the floor, the cop casually asks, “You working again?” to which Wick replies, “No, just sorting some stuff out.” Content with that response, the policeman strolls back to his cruiser and departs. A later action scene at the Continental Hotel reveals that an entire floor is reserved for assassins and has a strict code in place to ensure that “business” takes place off-premises. Unfortunately, as in many Hollywood films, the token black hit man, Harry (Clarke Peters), who shows more depth of character during his five minutes on screen than the three protagonists combined, is killed off in his hotel room within minutes.

Co-directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch probably justified this event, as well as the 78-person body count during the 96 minute film, to ensure that Wick remains the star of the show.

While the film is primarily a shoot-em-up, snippets of deeper themes are introduced to little end. The contrast between a new and old gangster code of ethics, exemplified by Wick’s tenuous relationship with Ms. Perkins, would have been interesting to explore further. So too would the façade of gentility that pervades the film and juxtaposes guns on a grand piano or has men dressed to the nines committing horrendous acts of violence.

Overall, John Wick is a mindless, self-indulgent film. And while the tongue-in-cheek humour and one-liners aren’t as clever as those in similarly themed Guy Ritchie films, action film lovers are sure to find something to enjoy.

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